the monograph

The best way of learning about history and understanding what history is and how it can help design, is to help make history, to help towards the construction of history.


What is a monograph ?

A monograph is a kind of essay. Officially the word means a description of a single thing or class of things: Mono (single) Graph (delineation). That covers just about any object or type of object, any single event or type of event any single person, family or class of persons etc. It differentiates itself from the essay, however, in that it is the subject, which takes centre stage and not the personal opinion of the author.


The purpose of a monograph is to describe and analyse a thing in some depth. In other words a monograph can be as long as a short essay or short as a long book.



The objective of each monograph is to present accurate and reliable information about something in an easily accessible, compelling and enjoyable format. That something might be a building as both an object and a place. It might be about the life and work of an architect or about a particular urban patch or a specific issue in architecture. For the sake of brevity I have used a building as the research object here. In investigating the life of a person or another theme, a similar model could be devised by yourself.

Tying the monograph to an issue or concern

Remember that you are becoming architects, research for you is something that must contribute to the architectural debate. History is not just about remembering. That memory has to be put to use. An architect observes and records, he draws his conclusions from his observations and on that basis, makes his decisions. Even so, the architect also will want to go one step further, he wants to bind his own purpose to his research, he wants to develop a vision of how that research is useful to the development of architecture or to his own development as an architect.


For this reason it is always important, even when doing a monograph, to look at the subject from the perspective of your own professional concerns, try to understand the subject with reference to your own development.


Constituent Elements

The constituent elements of a monograph include:


·         A description and analysis of the topographical context and setting of the building both contemporary (when it was first built) and present.

·         A detailed description and analysis of the Building as it stands (see section on description).


·         A reconstruction of the building’s history focusing on the changes in structure as they relate to the socio-economical, stylistic and cultural aspects of society at the time.


·         A brief history of the building’s past and present occupants and their role in the creation and development of the building.

·         A drawing of the plan and elevations of the existing structure supplemented by further sketches and/or photographs.


·         A set of detailed and annotated sketches of structural and decorative elements.

·         A proper introduction and conclusion (see relevant sections in Building an Argument) in which the monograph is tied to a particular architectural issue.

·         A comprehensive and properly documented bibliography and noting of sources.


Ordering the monograph

The order in which these headings are given does not necessarily reflect the order in which they might be treated in the monographs themselves. Having said that, a self-evident structure is one where a description or treatment follows a natural or logical sequence.

A description of the structure as it is now should precede a description of the building as it was, as one can then use the building as it survives as a reference point for what has to be imagined. A good model might be as follows:

·         From the present: It is helpful to start by describing the building as it is now.

·         To the past: then ask yourself the question: How did it come to be like that? With that question you dive into the building’s past.

·         Back to the present: and when in your description of its development you arrive back to the present, ask yourself the question: What now?

·         And so to the future: that will give you the chance to project the monograph into the future, tying the subject to your own concerns.


From the present to the past, back to the present and so to the future.


The sequence of the description of the building, or indeed the treatment of any theme should be ordered. Here are some suggestions: Order the text so that the description of argument goes:

·         From far away to close by;

·         from the large to the small,

·         from the overall to the detailed;

·         from the bottom to the top,

·         from the outside to the inside,

·         from the front to the back;

·         from the centre to the periphery.


·         Or the other way around.

The structuring of a monograph is different to that of an essay only in that it is larger and you would find it helpful to divide your material into separate chapters, each dealing with a particular aspect of the subject.